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Kiku in the Japanese Autumn Garden

November 3, 2009

Kiku Exhibition (photo from

I went on a tour of the Kiku exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx on Sunday. This is the third, and sadly final, year of the Kiku exhibition at the garden. The show is so time-consuming and expensive that it will return in only a much smaller form next year.

Kiku (菊) is Japanese for “chrysanthemum,” and the Kiku show contains examples of four different styles of cultivation in Japan. These traditional flower-growing techniques are passed on orally from master to apprentice, and many of the plants take up to a year to grow and manipulate into shape. Also, since the Kiku show is a month long, but chrysanthemums only bloom for two weeks, two sets of each elaborate set of blooms are prepared. The Kiku show is orchestrated and overseen by a single gardener who was apprenticed to a Kiku master in Japan for five years.


First, we have the oodzukuri (大作り) style, known in English as the “Thousand Bloom.” Though there are less than 1000 flowers here, there are still more than 200. What makes this array especially unique is that all the blossoms come from one single plant which has been pinched and pruned into a massive bush-like shape on a metal frame. If you look at the bottom of the photo just above the wooden planter, you can see the single stem from which the rest of the plant grows.


Next is the shino-tsukuri (篠作り) style, or “Driving Rain” in English. Each circle of flowers here grows from just two plants and four different stems. The height of each is carefully adjusted to form the slanted circular pattern.


Then there is the oogiku (大菊) style, literally “big chrysanthemum” in English. Each plant is trimmed and pinched so that only one strong stem remains, which creates a larger than usual flower at the very top. The energy that would have ordinarily been distributed to many flowers instead is concentrated into one huge bloom. The colors selected here (purple, yellow, and white) represent the colors of the bridals on the emperor’s horses.


Finally, there is my favorite style of kengai (懸崖), known in English as “Cascade.” The plant is tied to a boat-shaped bamboo and wire mesh frame until the frame is eventually covered in blossoms. This and all the other types of Kiku here are displayed in decorative wooden and bamboo uwaya which serve to protect the flowers.

There were also bonsai trees on display both inside and in the courtyard of the Conservatory, including trees over 200 years old that have been tended almost daily for around 50 years! The hobby of bonsai is very work-intensive and detail-oriented.

Taiko Masala

Twice a day on the weekends, there are also taiko drumming performances by the Taiko Masala troupe of Brooklyn. Not that I’m an expert at taiko, but I did take lessons in Japan for a year, and these guys were definitely pretty good!

The show continues at the Botanical Garden through Sunday, November 15th, so catch it while you can if you’re in town! If you have more questions about the show, feel free to leave a comment. I’m in training to be a docent at the garden, so I might know the answers, or at least can direct you to someone who can help! For more information, also see this link. The flowers are really much more beautiful in person than in my photos, so go check them out for yourself!

Kiku in the Japanese Autumn Garden
*Where: New York Botanical Garden – Bronx River Parkway at Fordham Road, Bronx, New York
*When: Tuesday-Sunday, 10/17/09 – 11/15/09
*Price: $20, $18 for students (includes admission to the entire garden, not just Kiku)
*Directions: Metro-North Harlem local line to “Botanical Garden”
B, D, or 4 subway trains to “Bedford Park Blvd,” then the Bx26 bus to Mosholu Gate (or just walk 8 blocks)
Driving or biking directions can be found here.


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